Saanich won’t reimburse former mayor Richard Atwell for his trip to Japan and council effectively ended his efforts to form a sister-city relationship Hatsukaichi City near Hiroshima.
Council first unanimously rejected Atwell’s request for the reimbursement of $4,535.99 for his trip Hatsukaichi City earlier this summer, after Saanich had hosted a delegation from that city in April.
The public heard from chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson that he told Atwell to seek prior approval for the trip from council, something Atwell failed to do.
According to Thorkelsson, Atwell was preparing to submit his reimbursement request to council in October before the municipal election, but did not do so until Nov. 2 — so after the last council meeting before the election and three days before the new council assumed office.
Coun. Ned Taylor acknowledged this aspects, but added that politics of Atwell’s request overshadowed the potential benefits of a future relationship with Hatsukaichi City.
So he asked council to consider a potential sister-city relationship with Hatsukaichi City, because it could benefit Saanich by virtue of Japan’s status as a technologically advanced country, especially around transportation issues. He also cited Saanich’s work against the proliferation of nuclear weapons as Hatsukaichi City lies near the first city subject to a nuclear attack.
But several councillors questioned the idea and Taylor appeared surprised by their response.
“It was not my intent to throw council off guard, so I apologize if that was the case,” he said. “I can understand the concerns that this [motion] is perhaps too specific.”
But the motion remained on the floor, despite attempts by Taylor to amend and then eventually withdraw it, failing 8-1.
Perhaps the most vocal critic of the idea was Mayor Fred Haynes, who has lived and worked in Japan for several years in 1980s and 1990s.
“I’m very troubled by the idea of picking one specific city and twinning it,” said Haynes, in questioning the very idea of sister-city relationships. While the idea might have been popular in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s when international travel and exchanges of various sorts were less frequent, the idea has run its course.
“I don’t see the added value of the municipality getting involved, particularly with a single city or a single agency,” he said. Multiple organizations have already and continue to foster relations with other countries, including Japan, he said. “What would they say if the municipality was getting in the way of their good work, giving one particular group attention?” he asked.
The consensus within the economic development community also considers the idea “old hat,” said Haynes. “Economic development is far bigger than this now,” he said.
He also questioned the argument Saanich and Hatsukaichi City should strike a relationship around their shared opposition against nuclear weapons. Haynes said Saanich has had a long history of opposing nuclear weapons, adding Saanich is currently preparing a related motion for the 2019 Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference.
“This is far more meaningful than having a sister-city relationship with a city that has been affected by Hiroshima,” he said. “I have been to Hiroshima many times. The skin in the game, if we want to work on nuclear disarmament, is the [United Nations] treaty on abolishing the nuclear bomb.”
Overall, Haynes said he sees “zero value” in any sister-city relationship. “Sorry to speak so harshly, but that is how I see it.”
The Saanich News has reached to Atwell for comment.